Harry King retired from corporate life in Britain to live in Spain. He would do so all over again if faced with the same decision and now lives near Alicante. He is the author of a number of books on Spain.
The Iberian Peninsula, like most Mediterranean countries, has been invaded many times. The Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Carthaginians, the Celts, the Romans and the Visigoths, six different invaders, take us only to the year 711. Then the good guys arrive. They were the Arab and Berber invaders. now popularly known as the Moors, who called Spain ‘Al Andalus’.
Visitors to Spain, unless historians, do not need to know about its early invaders but they will inevitably come across some of their interesting remains.
- Santa Barbara Castle, Alicante – an original site of a Carthanian fortress.
- Palm Grove. Elche – where the Dama de Elche was found, the grove originally planted by the Phoenicians.
- Segovia – a world famous Roman aqueduct.
- Tarragona – ruined Roman walls and amphitheatre.
HERITAGE OF THE MOORS
Arab invaders from northern Africa in AD 711 created a new society combining three distinct ethnic and religious groups. Muslims now joined Christians and Jews. These Muslim settlers were known as ‘The Moors’. Their powerful presence was established in Andalusia where mathematics, science and architecture flourished. Competent administrators, they also brought new crops such as rice and oranges to Spain.
Cordoba was the great shining light of Islamic culture. In time, it became a centre of learning, literature and the arts. Arabic numerals enabled the Spanish Moors to invent algebra. Great libraries sprang into being, the one at Cordoba containing 250,000 books. Poetry flourished. Fine art, silken garments, elaborate glassware and pottery were produced. Moorish surgeons used full anaesthetics to carry out brain surgery and eye operations, so that the wealthy from all over Europe used their services. Above all, the Moors built great mosques and palaces. The great Mosque in Cordoba and the mighty Alhambra in Granada bear witness to the magnificence of Moorish architecture.
The Moorish legacy to Spain is immense. Over 4,000 words of modern Spanish are of Arabic origin. The elaborate courtesy of many Spanish phrases reflects Islamic greetings. Spain’s most impressive buildings, palaces and castles are Moorish. Many words used in the context of architecture, mathematics and the practice of medicine are traceable to Arabic.
One other group was to have their lives profoundly affected by centuries of Moorish occupation. The Jews of Spain enjoyed, for the first time in their troubled history, a respected role in daily life. Freed from persecution, they were highly valued as merchants, administrators, ambassadors and financiers. Cordoba attracted Jewish scholars from all over Europe. Salamanca created a school of languages at the famous University, where Jewish, Christian and Moorish scholars worked side by side, translating the Holy Books of all three religions into Spanish.
Although Moors established themselves principally in the south, their power stretched to every corner of the peninsula. However, Christian kingdoms flourished in the far north and were eventually responsible for a rebellion that became known as the Re-conquest. It took Christian troops seven centuries to achieve a definite end to Muslim rule in Spain,
a so-called triumph celebrated to this day by a fiesta known as ‘The Moors and Christians’.
Far from being a simple conflict between Christians and Muslims, the Re-conquest was a see-saw of hostile encounters between Muslims and Muslims, Christians and Christians and only ultimately between Muslims and Christians. Within each warring camp there were opportunists, mercenaries and contending royal houses ready, willing and able to make a deal by temporarily enlisting the support of allies.
Charlton Heston played the magnificent, gallant and heroic Christian hero El Cid in the Hollywood film of that name. El Cid’s title Cid is Arabic for gentleman or chief, and was given to him in recognition of his service to the Moors. He was, in fact, an adventurer and battled with equal heroism against Christians and Muslims to further his own ends. He was no more averse to destroying a church than a mosque and plunder was his expected reward. His name is, nonetheless, preserved in history as an ideal husband and father, gentle courageous soldier, a generous noble conqueror and unswervingly loyal to King and country.
The expulsion of the cultured Moors and the rich industrious Jews left great gaps in the agricultural and administrative expertise of Spain. The Moors had also been responsible for the intricate terraces and irrigation systems that had created exotic gardens and orchards that still exist today, and the Jews had been highly placed in court circles as advisers. Without the Moors and the Jews, Spain suffered a long slow economic decline.
CONQUERING THE WORLD
Christopher Columbus, an Italian, proposed voyages of exploration to the Catholic government to find the New World. His first voyage in 1492 was a modest affair comprising three ships and a total crew of 90. With his crew on the point of mutiny he landed in the Bahamas and later discovered Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Buoyed by success the second voyage, a year later, was a grand affair comprising 17 ships and a crew of 1,500. It lasted three years and discovered countless West Indian islands. Fighting with the natives was common and five shiploads were sent back to Spain – the start of a slave trade.
The third voyage from Cadiz in 1498 was a failure. Columbus discovered Venezuela but he failed to find the westward passage to the Pacific. Politics within the monarchy ensured Columbus returned in irons, but he was soon released. Columbus was now a nuisance. There was a fourth voyage; the three ships searching vainly for the westward passage.
Columbus was a brilliant navigator and had a natural instinct for navigating by stars, sky and wind. He had an obsession to prove his ideas about a westward passage were correct. Although he was wrong, this does not minimise his achievements, for it was Columbus who introduced the Old World to the New World.
Soon after Columbus’s discovery of the Bahamas, the Spanish invaded Central and South America, conquering Mexico, Peru and Chile. In doing so they destroyed many civilisations. The Spanish conquerors stood open mouthed when they first saw the capital city of the Aztecs, but when the conquest ended in 1521 they had destroyed the city and had started to build in its place what was to become today’s Mexico City.
In the 16th century, vast quantities of gold and silver flowed across the Atlantic to Spain. Not only did Spain profit from the precious metals brought back from the Americas, but also from an amazing range of new crops. Potatoes, tomatoes and maize were introduced. Tobacco, spices and cacao were discovered.
The vast Spanish Empire in America which grew out of Columbus’s voyages of discovery made Spain – and broke it. The phenomenal wealth in gold, silver, pearls and other precious stones which poured across the Atlantic brought unimaginable riches to a country only just emerging from centuries of warfare. But it also brought enormous expense for defence against its rivals, equipping fleets which brought the treasure home, support of the missionaries who went out to convert the ‘;heathen’ natives and the cost of the large bureaucracy required to run the new colonies. The Empire did, however, give Spain an eminence it might not otherwise have acquired. Spain gained enormous prestige in Europe and became the prime champion of the Catholic Church.
This was Spain’s most productive era known as the Golden Age; a time of great achievement. Such brilliance occurred, however, against a background of economic deterioration and ruinous wars with the Low Countries and France. Spain gradually lost its influence in Europe. The 133-ship Armada suffered a further major defeat when it attempted to invade England: the Spanish galleons, although sturdily built, were hard to manoeuvre and were no match for swifter English vessels.
THE SPANISH INQUISITION
The Inquisition was not peculiar to Spain, but the Spanish form was the most famous and most dreaded, due chiefly to the activities of Tomas de Torquemada a Spanish Dominican monk who revived the system in 1453. It was established in 1233 to punish heresy within the Catholic Church. The Spanish Inquisition was not abolished until 1834 by which time it had tried some 60,000 cases of heresy. Of these, Torquemada alone condemned some 2,000 people to be burned.
The Roman Inquisition in 1542 was in response to the Protestant Reformation. Originally those found guilty were sentenced to excommunication, a fate which was pronounced after a religious ceremony; the ‘act of faith’ as it was termed. In Spain, however, the act of faith was a preliminary to punishment by the secular authorities, and this usually involved burning. The ceremony included a procession, solemn mass and a sermon before sentence was pronounced. Apart from burning, penalties could include fines, flogging or imprisonment. Trials by the Inquisition were held in secret and the accused were customarily tortured to confess.
SPAIN V. USA
The Spanish-American War in 1898 was a conflict between the United States and Spain which ended Spanish colonial rule in the Americas and resulted in the US acquisition of territories in the western Pacific and Latin America. The war originated in the Cuban struggle for independence from Spain, which began in February 1895. Spain’s brutally repressive measures to halt the rebellion were graphically portrayed to the US public by several sensational newspapers as American sympathy for the rebels rose. The growing popular demand for US intervention became an insistent chorus after the unexplained sinking in Havana harbour of the battleship USS Maine which had been sent to protect US citizens and property after anti-Spanish rioting in Havana. Spain announced an armistice on April 9 and speeded up its new programme to grant Cuba limited powers of self-government, but the US Congress soon afterward issued resolutions that declared Cuba’s right to independence, demanded the withdrawal of Spain’s armed forces from the island and authorised the President’s use of force to secure that withdrawal while renouncing any US design for annexing Cuba.
Spain declared war on the United States on April 24, followed by a US declaration of war on the 25th which was made retroactive to April 21. The ensuing war was pathetically one-sided, since Spain had not readied its army or its navy for a distant war with the formidable power of the United States. George Dewey led a US naval squadron into Manila Bay in the Philippines on May 1, 1898, and destroyed the anchored Spanish fleet in a leisurely morning engagement that cost only seven American seamen wounded. Manila itself was occupied by US troops by August.
The Spanish Caribbean fleet was located in Santiago harbour in Cuba by US reconnaissance. An army of regular troops and volunteers landed on the coast east of Santiago and slowly advanced on the city to force the Spanish fleet out of harbour. The ships tried to escape westward along the coast but in the ensuing battle they came under heavy fire from US guns and were beached either burning or sinking.
By the Treaty of Paris signed on December 10, 1898, Spain renounced all claim to Cuba, ceded Guam and Puerto Rico to the United States and transferred sovereignty over the Philippines to the United States. The Spanish-American War was an important turning point for Spain’s defeat, decisively turned the nation’s attention away from its overseas colonial adventures and inward to its domestic needs; a process that led to decades of much-needed economic development.
Between the World Wars poison gas was used in colonial wars despite the Versailles treaty ban on the use of chemical weapons. Probably the least known of these chemical offensives was waged by Spain against the Moroccans in the Riff War of 1919-27.
Three years after the First World War, Spain reached a secret agreement with a German gas producer to supply chemicals and technicians to make the gas. Evading Allied controls, supplies were transported to Spain and factories were converted to produce mustard gas. Between 1921 and 1927 vast quantities of the gas were dropped on civilian targets in northern Morocco.
The deadly effects of mustard gas were well known to the European powers from its use in the First World War. Mustard gas survivors are prone to die of cancer, and evidence indicates that the cancer produced by the gas can be passed on genetically. Figures suggest the rate of childhood cancer is much higher in those areas bombed with mustard gas by the Spanish than elsewhere in Morocco.
In July 1936 a military revolt against the democratically elected government took place. The country was soon divided between the rebelled Nationalists generally located in the agricultural areas, led by General Franco, and the Republicans located in the industrialised areas. A three-year civil war ensued.
Both sides received help from abroad. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany sent troops, arms and aircraft to aid the Nationalists. The USSR sent military equipment and advisers to the Republican loyalists who were also aided by idealistic volunteers from Europe and America.
The Nationalists won after three years. The savage war was followed by a vindictive peace. Franco made no attempt at national reconciliation. Hundreds of thousands of people were imprisoned and 37,000 executed during the four years after the war. The main political forces during this period were the Army and, surprisingly, the Church which had developed close ties with Franco.
What role did the UK play? Officially it was neutral, but murky dealings have since come to light. Franco was commanding the Canary Islands garrison when the right-wing military coup against the Spanish republic was launched. He was ferried to take command of the military revolt in a British De Havilland Dragon Rapid aircraft chartered from Olley Air Services at Croydon aerodrome and flown by Captain Cecil Bebb.
That much has been known for some time but recently declassified documents at the Public Record Office at Kew, England show a far deeper involvement. On the plane with Franco was Major Hugh Pollard who was an experienced intelligence officer who later, in 1940. was stationed in Madrid working for MI6. Pollard spoke Spanish and was a firearms expert who had served in wars and revolutions in Ireland, Mexico and Morocco. Since Special Branch at Croydon monitored all international flights at that time they must have had knowledge of its purpose, which ultimately was to help to overthrow a democratically elected government.
At the end of the Second World War, Spain was an international outcast. The UN ostracised the Franco regime and many countries cut off diplomatic ties. But with the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, Franco was seen as an important ally against communism, and a slow re-emergence took place in the next decade as Spain attempted to integrate itself into the world economy.
From 1961 the economy boomed because of rapid industrial growth and a substantial rise in tourism. Owing to a labour shortage, wages increased, trade unions developed and agriculture was mechanised. Greater prosperity brought rapid social change. There was massive migration from rural to urban areas bringing in its wake a government-sponsored housing programme. During this period social pressures brought a change from an oppressive rule to one more liberal.
OLIVE OIL SCANDAL
Twenty-five years ago the Spanish ‘cooking oil’ disaster began as a mystery illness. Years later the toll was more than 1,000 deaths and more than 25,000 seriously injured, many of whom were permanently disabled. It was the most devastating food poisoning in modern European history.
The epidemic is officially deemed to have started on May 1, 1981 when an eight-year-old boy, Jaime Vaquero Garcia, suddenly fell ill; he died in his mother’s arms on the way to La Paz children’s hospital in Madrid. Learning that his five brothers and sisters were also ill, doctors brought them in to Hospital del Rey, Madrid’s prestigious clinic for infectious diseases where doctors began treating them for pneumonia.
The Vaquero family proved merely the first of many. The initial symptoms were flu-like: fever and breathing difficulties, vomiting and nausea and patients soon developed a pulmonary oedema (the build-up of fluid in the lungs), skin rashes and muscle pain.
More than a month after the epidemic first struck most of those in power had no strategy other than to hope something would turn up. Finally, it did. Dr Juan Tabuenca Oliver, director of the Hospital lnfantil de Nino Jesus told the government that he’d found the cause of the epidemic. The government accepted his theory and on June 10 an official announcement was made on late night television informing the public that the epidemic was caused by contaminated cooking oil.
The cooking oil theory was persuasive. To protect its native olive oil industry the Spanish government had tried to prevent imports of the much cheaper rapeseed oil by adding an inedible aniline to restrict its use to industry. The illness was attributed to aniline poisoning caused by unscrupulous dealers selling the oil illegally for consumption.
Throughout all this time one man ignored the official lines of inquiry and spent months pursuing his own. Having eliminated cooking oil, Dr Muro and his colleagues turned their attention to other salad products and concluded that, without any doubt, the contaminated foodstuff was tomatoes and that pesticides were responsible for the epidemic.
The tomatoes, they established, had come from Almeria. Although exactly what happened may never be known, it is likely that one farmer had used chemicals too liberally or had harvested the crop too quickly after applying them.
For the various political and industrial concerns there was a common interest in hiding the truth. For the multinational chemical companies, the revelation that a mass poisoning had occurred would have been scandalous and financially disastrous. The Spanish administration had entirely congruent interests. Democracy itself depended on the government being seen to deal capably with this national tragedy. At that time Almeria represented an economic miracle for Spain, providing produce that went to all parts of Europe. Had it been acknowledged that those deaths had been caused by pesticides on tomatoes, the effect on the entire Spanish export trade would have been incalculable.
TENERIFE AIR DISASTER
The Tenerife disaster took place on March 27, 1977 when two Boeing 747s collided on the Island of Tenerife killing 583 people. The Tenerife disaster had the greatest number of casualties of any air disaster until the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and remains the deadliest aviation accident in history.
On March 27, 1977 Pan Am Flight 1736, N736PA, had taken off from New York’s JFK International Airport bound for the Canary Islands. Upon approaching its final destination – Las Palmas – it was told that the airport was temporarily closed due to a bomb attack by Canary Island separatists, and was ordered to divert to Los Rodeos airport on the neighbouring island of Tenerife.
KLM Flight 4805, PH-BUF, a 747 flying as a charter full of holiday makers was getting ready to head back to Amsterdam. KLM had instructions to depart first. The Pan Am 747 would follow. Following the tower’s instructions the KLM jet taxied to the end of the main runway and waited for takeoff clearance. What happened next would turn out to be a fatal chain of events.
With KLM ready to go, Pan Am was instructed to taxi along the same main runway until they reached exit 3, then to head on to the take off point via a parallel taxiway. Due to heavy fog they missed exit 3 and decided to go on to exit 4.
Air traffic control gave the KLM plane clearance for the route it was to take after takeoff, but the KLM crew mistakenly thought that it was permission for the takeoff itself. Since there was dense fog the KLM’s pilots were unable to see the Pan Am 747 ahead of them. In addition neither of the 747s could be seen from the control tower and the airport was not equipped with runway radar.
Later investigation showed that the KLM pilots misinterpreted some of Tenerife’s instructions. This was partly caused by squelched radio messages (calls from both planes to the tower and vice versa cancelled each other), partly by non-standard phrases used by the tower, and partly by the Dutch captain Jacob Veldhuyzen van Zanten seemingly jumping to conclusions.
Captain Veldhuyzen van Zanten, impatient because the flight had been delayed for hours and thinking that they had permission to take off, applied full power. The co-pilot expressed his concern about the level of clearance they had obtained but he was immediately overruled and hesitated to further challenge the captain who was not only senior in rank, but also one of the most able and experienced pilots of the company.
As soon as the Pan Am, still taxiing along, spotted the KLM 747, the pilots tried to take a sharp turn away from the runway, but collision was only seconds away. The KLM plane, by now already partially airborne, slammed into the side of the Pan Am plane ripping apart the centre of the fuselage. The KLM plane rolled 180 degrees and slammed into the ground belly-up near the Pan Am jet. All 234 passengers and 14 crew members in the KLM plane were killed and 321 of the 380 aboard the Pan Am flight perished too. The Pan Am captain was among the survivors.
As a consequence of the accident, sweeping changes were made to international airline regulations and to aeroplanes. A worldwide rule was made that all control towers and pilot crews had to use English standard phrases. Aeroplane manufacturers began installing equipment that helped pilots see through fog. Cockpit procedures were also changed. Hierarchical relations were played down. More emphasis was placed on decision-making by mutual agreement. This is known in the industry as crew resource management and is now standard training in all major airlines.